Born: Nashville, Tenn.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, economics and business, Vanderbilt University
What has been your greatest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges that I’ve had is basically a company midlife crisis or midlife success. When firms start out, you start out with a survival mode. You go after everything you can get in order to survive. But then as the company grows, and you become moderately successful and things are going along, the challenge is for your personnel, particularly your managers, not to get the automatic mode. In other words, we’re sailing along, things are going well, we don’t have to be quite as worried and quite as concerned about overhead or project controls, etc. That sometimes can lead to a little bit of less intensity.
How I overcame it was reinstituting metrics and really just continue in management meetings to preach the whole concepts of, ‘We don’t want to get to be a big, fat company. We want to stay what brought us to the dance.’ It’s really a lot of re-emphasis over and over.
What was your first job ever?
I grew up working as a kid, 5 years on up. My first paying job outside of home was, other than the cutting grass, was I worked at the China Mart in Nashville in a little shed out back mixing concrete, molding and casting concrete birdbaths, planter boxes, benches, and I did that for a summer when I was in eighth grade.
When you oiled the metal molds and clamped them together, you had to feel the inside corners to make sure they were aligned, so I didn’t wear gloves and the concrete wore most of the skin off my hands, and I was practicing football so I had to bandage my hands, but I was rich. I worked 40 hours and made $40, and that was my first paying job. Then, working through school, was construction. My father and I bought land and developed cattle farms and built barns and dug postholes and all that stuff.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I wanted to be a truck driver. I always liked trucks. Then, today, I’d be a project superintendent.
Choate on waste: I’m an economist by degree, and the worst thing in the world in any company is waste unneeded waste, waste of resources, time, money, etc., but the worst waste in the world is human resources, which means lack of development or worse, laziness or just not having a good work ethic. That’s an overriding thing that we look to engender in the people that we assess and bring on and train. We want these people to succeed. We train them. We take care of them. They excel, and we are very proud of that.